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Cotton Bowl Media Day Recap: WMU adjusting to new atmosphere

Traveling from Waldo Stadium to AT&T Stadium, Western Michigan is soaking in the experience.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The lifestyle of the smaller southwest Michigan city does not compare to the upbeat, active nature of the Dallas Metropolitan Area. Kalamazoo’s population of around 75,000 contrasts to the 380,000 folks living in the northern Texas city of Arlington.

One stadium resides in the heart of Arlington, a masterpiece constructed from the ground in 2009. The well-renowned stadium, known as AT&T Stadium, is the Grand Canyon or perhaps, the Mount Rushmore of sporting venues. It is quite the site to see.

Operating as the home of Dallas Cowboys, the stadium cost $1.15 billion to construct. About 80,000 spectators can fill the seats, but the most striking feature of the stadium is the scoreboard. Unlike most scoreboards, the high-definition video board stretches over the center of the field. The 175-foot long wonder occupies a great bulk of volume in the stadium — and could be a distraction for fans and players.

“It won’t scare us,” cornerback Darius Phillips said. “We played in a big atmosphere at Ohio State. Our home stadium gets loud too. I feel we’re used to it now and we’re ready.”

The 320-foot tall dome is unlike the majority of stadiums. The Western Michigan Broncos recently traveled to Arlington from their home in Kalamazoo. On most Saturdays (or weeknights in November), the Broncos play in front of around 30,000 fans in the outdoor Waldo Stadium. There is no roof, no giant video board, and it originally cost only $250,000 to build in 1939. But after a few days of practice, the Broncos’ players are adjusting to life under the spotlight.

“I looked out there and I just had to take a moment at the entrance at the field,” free safety Justin Tranquill said. “It’s one of those things where you walk out there and there are so many emotions running through you. For me, it was a mixture of a childhood dream coming to life, the realization that we’re actually here, and just getting to be out there with all of the guys.”

But even with the high ceiling, the larger-than-life videoboard, and the feeling of the Dallas Cowboys’ esteemed locker room, the Broncos are still playing the sport they mastered in 2016 with a perfect 13-0 record.

“There are a lot of stands there,” quarterback Tom Flacco said. “There’s that big thing over the top of you when you’re practicing. But honestly, other than that, there’s really nothing different. There’s a one hundred yard field, and two touchdowns. It’s a cool experience when you first step on the field.”

AT&T Stadium is one of the many sites the Western Michigan Broncos have been introduced to during the course of an eventful week. P.J. Fleck took the team to the Monday Night Football game in the stadium between the Lions and the Cowboys. The team also experienced other venues in Dallas, including trips to a Mavericks game, a children’s hospital, and TopGolf — a recreational driving range game.

“It’s a special opportunity — a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” running back Jamauri Bogan said. “You kind of want to relish it, stay in it, and be focused in it. It doesn’t come around many times. We’re definitely enjoying this ride, but we’re focused on the task at hand.”

Western Michigan will challenge Wisconsin for the most monumental contest in the program’s century-old history. The Broncos are aiming to complete a perfect 14-0 season by winning one of the six heralded New Year’s bowl games. For some players, including quarterback Zach Terrell, the Cotton Bowl will be the final time suiting up in a Bronco uniform.

“This has been a first-class bowl, and we’ve got to experience amazing things,” Terrell said. “We’ve really enjoyed being here — it’s something we’ll really remember forever. We’re very excited to play on a big stage. It’s an opportunity to go have fun and have one last crack at playing football with this team.”